Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wed., July 27, 2011
Lots of steam, a nautical rodeo, from Thailand to la Dolce Vita

Ok, people…RUN, don’t walk, to the nearest opportunity you have to visit White Island, a submarine volcano, off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand! Not kidding! So inconceivably awesome! It was like walking on the moon with giant spewing fumaroles and steam puffing out of holes and fissures on this barren landscape almost devoid of vegetation. Here are some words from our group to describe today…almost all of them referring to White Island: amazing, gaseous, unique, outrageous, yellow, stunk (in reference to the sulfur smell, which was quite strong at times!), thought-provoking, volcanic, steamy, eerily breathtaking, sci-fi, serious, caldera, sweeeeeeeeeeet, rock-n-rollin”, and “craterrific”!… and then there was "abduction" and "conspiratorial" but more about that later - and fattening - later!

We loaded onto the boat this morning where we received some safety tips along with the location of the life jackets…just in case, you know! We then started our almost 2 hour trip out to White Island in the Bay of Plenty through choppy waters and large swells. White Island, New Zealand’s only active volcano, is believed to be between 150,000-200,000 years old It was once the site of sulfur mining activity but in 1914 an eruption killed 10 men when ash and a lahar collapsed the building they were in (no trace of them was ever found) and mining was finally curtailed in 1923. BTW, a cat named “Peter the Great” survived. Legend has it that he sired all of the cats in Whakatane today! But men did come there to work, especially during the Depression when employment was almost impossible to find. This is the kind of place that you either love or hate. One man came for 2 years and stayed for 8 while another, upon seeing the island, climbed the mast of his ship, tied himself to it and refused to come down until the ship was on its return journey away from the island! Apparently he had a different idea of an island in the South Pacific!

Just before arrival at White Island, the crew took out yellow hard hats and gas masks for us to wear during or visit , a real fashion statement for sure! We left the boat and climbed into an inflatable dingy that took us to a crude ladder which we climbed to a landing and then navigated our way across a garden of boulders to the beach. More safety tips here as we were informed that today was the 11th anniversary of the last eruption but not to worry. They had plans - sort of - just in case - and that as soon as our boat had a chance to return safely from fleeing the falling ash and debris from said explosion, it would be back to pick us up. Of course, since it was already so awesome to be there, we ventured forth and never looked back! Seriously, the pictures tell it all and just as soon as I have an internet connection, I promise to share them with you but suffice it to say, “IT WAS AWE-INSPIRING!“ The power of the earth is not to be understated.

So much color in the rocks here. The sulfur, gypsum, and iron ore all contribute to the rainbow of hues that can be found, as well as the sun, rain, and cloud cover. Again, Mother Nature, thank you!

Ever heard of a nautical rodeo? Me, neither, but we experienced all the bucking and excitement of a land rodeo cowboy on our return trip to Whakatane. The captain told me he expected it to be windier on this trip and his prediction did not disappoint. While he thought the swells were only about a meter high, the water was consistently washing over both the lower and upper decks of the boat and the windows, blocking all visibility. Being a passenger on this boat was like riding a bucking bronco and was yet another example of how powerless humans really are, despite their belief of just the opposite! I loved every minute of it and it the perfect end to a flawless excursion! There were times that the waves we encountered, washed over the TOP deck of the boat! Some of us were invoking the protection of a higher power!

As I was getting ready to meet everyone in the lobby for dinner, I realized that Mater was missing! I tore through my pockets, my camera case, my suitcase and then my memory trying to remember when was the last time I saw him! Good grief! What will I tell Liam if I can’t find our lovable little tow truck?! I realized that he must have fallen out of my pocket either on the boat or on the bus and now my mind was in full blown problem solving mode! When I told Anja she volunteered to call the boat company and send him home if that was where he was but assured me he must be on the bus. Donna and Branden were shocked at Mater’s absence and Jane appropriately expressed her dismay, as well. The rest of the group joined in my anguish, as well,which, as it turns out, was all an act! .. and then…on our way to dinner…I was called to the front desk of the hotel and was given a note…FROM MATER! It read: “NuNu - Awhina! (Help!) Kia Tupato! (Be careful!) You forgot me! You will be “towed” what to do. Mater”…then on the bottom was written: “Kitonu tak waka topaki I te tuna.” I will ask Richard, our bus driver, for a translation tomorrow. (My hovercraft is full of eels!) This is where “abduction” comes into play. Poor Mater! He must be worried that he will be left behind in New Zealand but not me! I know he must be well cared for and will patiently wait for his return while doing whatever the notes tell me to do! Stay tuned…..

Since we did not want the hotel food again we ventured out to a local Thai restaurant. Excellent food (an opinion shared by most of us, anyway!) and lots of fun. Of course, I missed Mater but when I looked at the pictures on my camera….THERE HE WAS! Such a mystery! They had these little funky animals with propeller navels with clips sticking out of their heads that were used to hold the table numbers. One was a cow and I decided I needed to have it for Amy. The woman at the desk was a bit taken aback when I asked if I could purchase this little cow but I was able to broker a deal and left with the cow…but not Mater!

We then went to an Italian restaurant for dessert - la dolce vita! OMG! There was caramel chocolate cheesecake, Donatello fudge ice cream concoction, little chocolate covered pineapple cake pops, and it all was scrum-diddlee-umptious and quite beautiful to boot! All this food left us in a food coma! Good thing we’ve been doing lots of walking!

Tomorrow we leave for Auckland and then we are off to Fiji!

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